Crime

Victim or killer? Jury to decide in Vashon Walker's murder trial

TIM CHITWOOD

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

Either Vashon Walker was an abusive boyfriend who put a .45-caliber bullet through Jessica Osborne’s head on June 17, 2014, or he was a home break-in victim police unjustly have charged in the death of the mother of three girls ages 10, 7 and 2.

That was the choice presented to jurors Tuesday as Walker’s murder trial began in Muscogee Superior Court.

Prosecutor Katie Hartford told them Walker had a history of domestic violence, and soon after Osborne began dating him in the spring of 2014 — two years after she moved here from Mississippi — she began to lose touch with a sister to whom she’d always been close.

When on the phone, Osborne would sneak away from Walker and speak low in a sort of code language, which Hartford called a telltale sign of abuse. This culminated in a blow-up between Walker and Osborne that Tuesday in June when neighbors heard them arguing loudly at their new home, 4304 Forrest Road.

A witness that day heard the argument and a gunshot, looked outside and saw Walker come out the back door of the house and do something in the backyard, then come back and kick the door in, Hartford said.

When police responding to Walker’s 911 call arrived, they found Osborne dead on the living room floor, where the bullet that went through her head had lodged in the floorboard. Gunshot residue showed she had a contact wound, meaning the barrel of the gun was pressed to her head, Hartford said.

An autopsy revealed Osborne had other, older injuries consistent with her having been abused, said Hartford, who added the victim’s sister told investigators Osborne had spoken of Walker’s abuse, and told her, “If this guy hurts me, you get my kids and never let them be apart.”

Her children were not there when she was killed.

In the backyard, police found a .45-caliber pistol hidden beneath some vines and weeds. Ballistics tests matched it to the bullet that killed Osborne, Hartford said and detectives found no evidence another gun had been fired at the scene.

The defense

Walker’s lead defense attorney Mark Shelnutt gave Walker’s version of events:

Walker told police he and Osborne had just returned that day from a trip to the Columbus Public Library, where she had applied for a job.

“When they pulled into the driveway, things were good,” Shelnutt said: The two were happy to be starting a new life together in a new home, where they’d just begun moving in the previous Friday.

Osborne went into the house as Walker fished his cell phone from where it had fallen between the car seats, Shelnutt said. He heard a scream and other commotion coming from inside the house, so he rushed in.

Inside an intruder had Osborne down on the floor with a gun pointed at her. “Give it up,” he told Walker before firing the fatal shot.

Walker told police he fought with the gunman before the burglar struggled loose, firing multiple shots as Walker ducked away.

Walker ran to a tool room and got a hammer, then heard the gunman running out the back door. He followed, and saw a gray truck speed away, Shelnutt said.

Finding Osborne wounded, Walker called 911 and administered CPR, the attorney said. Though police initially believed his account, their suspicions soon turned to him. “That’s what this case is — it’s about a rush to judgment,” Shelnutt said.

He said Walker had no motive to kill Osborne: They were getting along well, with no suspicion of infidelity or other distrust, and Walker gained no financial advantage from Osborne’s death.

Walker didn’t need money, Shelnutt said, because he got an annuity resulting from the settlement of a childhood injury. Someone set fire to him when he was 7, and his clothes “lit up,” leaving third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body. The clothing manufacturer settled the family’s claims, the lawyer said.

But that annuity made Walker a target for robbery, Shelnutt said: People knew he had money.

Among the first witnesses Tuesday was Sarah Peppers of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who specializes in trace and fiber evidence. She said swabs of Walker’s hands revealed gunshot residue, indicating he either fired a gun or otherwise came into contact with gunshot debris.

She acknowledged under cross-examination that such debris can travel up to 30 feet from a gun.

Walker faces charges of malice or intentional murder, felony murder for allegedly killing Osborne while committing the felony of aggravated assault, and aggravated assault.

His trial resumes today before Judge Frank Jordan Jr. on the Columbus Government Center’s 10th floor.

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